“If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.” – Lemony Snicket
Yilan County, Taiwan is a little less than 7,500 miles from my hometown of LaGrange, Illinois. Door to door, it takes about twenty-four hours to get from one place to another—assuming you fly direct to Taipei from Chicago. That time period includes the drive from my house to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, the sixteen-hour flight, the MRT trip from Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport into Taipei Main Station, the bus journey from Taipei Main Station to the Yilan City bus terminal, the taxi ride from the Yilan City bus terminal to my apartment complex, and finally, the walk up the stairs to the second floor of the apartment building. Phew… Still with me? Good. Needless to say, it was the farthest away from home I had ever been.
And what a journey it was. I’ve been home now for over six months, and every day I think more about the journey I took last year.
During my final semester of college in the Spring of 2016, I decided I was going to apply for a grant to teach English through Fulbright Taiwan. Flash-forward to July 31, 2017. I’m getting on a plane just after midnight at O’Hare Airport bound for Taipei, Taiwan and thinking to myself, ‘How did I get here?’
Here’s a list of things I had never done before traveling to and living in Taiwan for one year.
1) Visited Taiwan.
2) Visited Asia.
3) Lived in another country for longer than a month and a half.
4) Spent a significant amount of time in a country where I didn’t speak the language very well prior to arrival.
5) Driven a motor scooter.
6) Driven a scooter in torrential rains.
7) Experienced an earthquake.
8) Mastered using chopsticks.
9) Overcome my fear of spiders.
Things I have done since traveling to Asia; All of the above (well, except completely overcome my fear of spiders. They are BIG in Taiwan).
Living in Taiwan was like most journeys—you learn by doing. I learned quite a lot during the year I was abroad, but I don’t think I realized how much I had grown until I came home and had time to process it all.
When you’re living and working abroad, like with any type of work or project, sometimes you get so caught up in the whirlwind of it all that you don’t realize how far you’ve come—both in terms of geographical miles and in personal progress.
While abroad I learned to be more independent and self-advocating. I became adept at diplomatic problem solving as well as time management. I did everything from organizing visa paperwork to getting myself to planes and trains on time. I truly felt like I was ‘adulting.’
When you live abroad you get very comfortable with being constantly uncomfortable. It’s like being on a stage doing improv or stand-up, but it’s your ENTIRE life. You might know how to ask “Where’s the bathroom?” in Mandarin, but suddenly you realize that you don’t understand the answer to the question you just asked. You would have to hope that when the person told you where the bathroom was they would point in a general direction. It’s all part of the learning experience. Consider it character building.
If I can survive the embarrassment of trying to order an iced coffee with milk in Mandarin, only to accidentally ask for an iced coffee with beef, I think I can do anything. So can you!